Gunman at U.S. Capitol had disrupted Congress before, officials say

An armed man who was shot Monday trying to enter the U.S. Capitol was known to police and had previously disrupted a session of Congress, according to local and federal law enforcement officials.

Larry Dawson of Tennessee was stopped by Capitol Police after he set off a metal detector trying to enter the Capitol Visitor Center, a federal official said. After an argument, Dawson drew a weapon and pointed it at officers, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

At least one officer opened fire, shooting the suspect, said Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa. A weapon was recovered at the scene, he added.

Dawson was taken to a hospital for treatment.  A female bystander, age 35 to 45, was hospitalized with what Verderosa called minor injuries from the incident.

Dawson's motives remain unclear. Verderosa did not identify Dawson by name during a news briefing outside the Capitol, but said the suspect was known to Capitol Police.

“We believe this is an act of a single person who has frequented the Capitol grounds before,” Verderosa said. “There is no reason to believe this is anything more than a criminal act.”

Dawson’s identity was confirmed by a federal law enforcement official who was not authorized to speak about the investigation.

In October, Dawson reportedly shouted from a House balcony that he was a “prophet of God.”

After the October incident, Dawson was charged in D.C. Superior Court with unlawful conduct on Capitol grounds and assault on a police officer, according to court records. He pleaded not guilty and was released on the condition that he stay away from the Capitol grounds. Dawson failed to appear in court on Nov. 19, records show, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Verderosa said the building’s security precautions prevented the suspect from entering.

“It appears the screening process worked the way it’s supposed to,” he said. Police also located and seized the suspect’s car on the Capitol grounds, he said.

The 2:40 p.m. EDT shooting briefly shut down the Capitol as police told panicked visitors and staff to take immediate shelter and close, lock and stay away from doors.

“Due to police activity, Capitol Police have issued a shelter in place for the Capitol complex. Please stay in your designated area,” the Senate sergeant at arms said in a tweet during the shutdown.

By 3:40 p.m. EDT, the Capitol reopened. It will reopen for visitors on Tuesday.

Though House and Senate lawmakers are away on recess, the Capitol remains a popular draw for tourists and school groups visiting in spring at the peak of cherry blossom season.

Joe and Leslie Stephenson, who are visiting from the San Diego area with their two small children, were at the National Air and Space Museum when they suddenly saw people fleeing the Capitol complex.

"They were out of breath and really shaken up," said Leslie Stephenson, a nurse.

"These kinds of things happen,'' said Joe Stephenson, adding that the family still hoped to tour the Capitol during their trip. "I don't want to live in fear."

The visitor center is a vast underground complex beneath the Capitol where visitors line up for tours. The multi-level space includes a cafeteria, gift shops and official meeting rooms for lawmakers. Many news conferences are held there.

Those visiting the Capitol must go through metal-detector screening as they enter the visitor center, but lines often form outside the complex.

The visitor center was built in part as a response to the 1998 shooting deaths of two Capitol Police officers by a man with mental problems. Previously, tourists entered through the same doors used by lawmakers and staff.

In a separate incident about the same time Monday, the Secret Service temporarily closed the north and south fence lines of the White House after observing a ticketed member of the public attending the annual Easter Egg Roll attempting to move a temporary security barrier, a spokesman said. The incident was separate from what occurred at the Capitol, officials said.

The closures were quickly lifted, and pedestrians were again free to walk along the north and south perimeters of the White House grounds.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

4:09 p.m.: The story was updated throughout.

2:55 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from tourists.

2:44 p.m.: This article was updated with the name of the gunman.

2:11 p.m.: This article was updated after the police news conference.

1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from the Secret Service.

12:53 p.m.: This article was updated with news that the Capitol was reopened.

12:30 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Washington, D.C., police.

12:12 p.m.: This article was updated with Los Angeles Times staff reporting.

12:09 p.m.: This article was updated with more details about the scope of the situation.

12:01 p.m.: This article was updated with information about a victim and the shooter.

The article was originally published at 11:56 a.m.

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